Archive for the ‘ Kidderminster ’ Category

Red Sky

Red sky over Kidderminster

I have set up a highly efficient office in a room in my house. It’s got all mod cons – computer, laptop dock, printer, scanner, speakers, filing cabinet, cupboards, bookshelves, phoneline. There’s a nice picture on the wall, a big map of Shropshire and a giant whiteboard where I can plan work and cross things out when I’ve done them. I like this bit best.

Yet after three weeks of working as close to full time as is possible with two kids to pick up every day at 3pm, I’ve already decamped with laptop to the dining room table at the back of the house. Sometimes I end up on the settee, hunched over the keyboard. The lovely oak desk with its posture-friendly office chair is abandoned.

I’ve ended up with a crick in my neck and sore shoulders but, despite realising the stupidity and wastefulness, I can’t help it. I live in a house, you see, with two distinct climates. The front of the house, where the office is, gets the morning sun and is flooded with light until about 11am, when the sun moves round and it falls into shadow. By midday the back garden is bathed in sunshine. Thus, the back kitchen and dining room are lit up, warm and welcoming, while the study turns dull and cool.

I was in the back room the other night; I’d returned to my laptop to finish something off while Richard put the boys to bed. Then I became aware of this bright red glow. When I looked out of the patio doors I was convinced something must be on fire nearby, so intense was the red sky. To one side was bright blue sky; to the other ominous dark clouds; and betwixt was this sweep of fluffy, swirling scarlet mass. I grabbed my camera and took a few snaps. It was weird, and eerie, and amazing, and lovely, all at once.

Pretty Dresses and Sunshine Days

Now that was a proper sunny day wasn’t it? Doesn’t a bit of sunshine lift the mood? Wow – just lovely. Time to dust off the bbq and dig out the sunhats and cream. (That’s jinxed it – it will probably be raining by the time you read this.)

They say the best things in life are worth waiting for. Like the Spring days we are experiencing now.

Last time I blogged I was a bit despairing and thought I had made a terrible mistake turning down a job back at the newspaper where I first started out as a journalist.

Now I’m about to start a different and, I believe, much better job. It was definitely worth the wait.

From May 3rd I take over as editor of Shropshire Life magazine, a niche county publication aimed particularly at posh, well off and aspirational people in my beautiful home county.

I am so looking forward to getting started, though I fear the good folk of Shropshire might be a bit alarmed by my populist approach and lack of airs and graces. Ah well, what’s the worst that can happen? (*erm, spiralling decline in readership, withdrawal of advertising, the sack?*)

Anyway, as part of my pre-start preparations, I visited Albrighton Hall in Shropshire on Thursday evening to attend a forum of readers of Shropshire Life. I must confess I was dreading it. I’m not exactly a chav, but I do sometimes find posh people a bit intimidating. I was expecting lots of blue rinses and monocles, double barrelled names and name-dropping.

Instead I got to spend a funny, insightful evening with a bunch of people who, for the most part, I’d happily have as friends. They were all bright and interesting, not at all snobby, and included a teacher, a struggling farmer, a shop owner,  a small business manager, and a youth centre boss. I came away with a spring in my step and a hatful of new ideas.

In the meantime I’m trying to make the very most of my last few weeks of relative “freedom”. The job should only entail about 5 hours work a day, but that will limit how much additional freelance work I can take on, at least for a while; but more alarmingly it also curtails the “me time” that I had got used to enjoying while the kids were both at school this past few months.

When I say “me time” I do of course include in that things like the ironing, cleaning the loo, washing the floors, hoovering, dusting, shopping, gardening, running errands and cooking.

But it also includes lovely time meeting with friends over coffee or a beer, going out for long walks in the countryside, visiting my folks, wandering aimlessly around shops sans kids, enjoying bizarre and usually short-term craft projects, writing, taking photos and generally having a nice old time.

Sadly the first part of my “me time” will have to continue – the chores and so on will not do themselves – but I fear the latter part will get squeezed out.

So I’m planning one hell of a busy and pleasant few weeks until S-Day. One of the lovely things I did last week was spend a day with my friend Becky, who I met when we both took a beginner photography course at Kidderminster College. She’d asked me to go along with her to help take some publicity pictures for a family friend, Charis, who has set up her own designer dressmaking business.

We turned up on a beautiful day – a bit overcast but warm. We found a nice spot at the edge of the large pond Charis’s home overlooks. Modelling the clothes were Charis’s younger sister and a friend. They were incredible and very patient as we amateurishly took the best photos we could.

Thankfully she is delighted with the finished results. They will find their way onto her website and into publicity material to launch her new venture.

I too was pleased with the results. The models were brilliant, especially considering they had never done any modelling before; the setting and light were good; and the dresses were just beautiful.

As someone who struggles to take up a hem, I can appreciate the intricate skills she shows. If you have a wedding looming, or want a one-off dress for a party or special event, you should give her a call. Her website is at http://www.charismaticcloth.co.uk The photos will be uploaded in the next few weeks (you can see my full set on my facebook page if you know me).

Each dress can take weeks to make from concept to finish. As I said at the beginning of this blog, the best things in life really are worth waiting for.

Black and white and red all over

 

 

 

Tree shadow, white wall and scooter boy

Well, what a week or so that was. It started with a job interview and ended with a canalside walk in the sunshine.

Before I get started, I warn you that I fear this is going to be one of those revelatory blogs. I’ve been drinking coffee with the odd drambuie liqueur, don’t feel like bed, do feel like chatting. Everyone else in my family is asleep. The laptop and this blog will have to suffice.

So, I’ll roll back 10 days to a job interview – my first proper one for a decade or so. I worried about what to wear, what to say, what to do with my hands.

The interview was held in the building where, as a young wannabe reporter 20 years or more earlier, I had turned up to try to land a place on one of the country’s best training courses. The sliding doors were still in place. Behind the desk was the same receptionist. And greeting me at the interview was someone who had worked alongside me all those years ago. He was the boss now. I couldn’t help joking about something that had happened two decades earlier. He didn’t laugh.

Anyway, the interview resulted in a job offer. It wasn’t exactly my dream job, but over the course of the next few days I got to really like the idea. In fact, I decided it was not just a job I wanted; it was the only thing I needed to make my life complete.

In fact, I decided the only thing stopping me accepting the job was my family circumstances. Curse them. For a few days I felt resentful and bitter. My ambition was being thwarted by my kids, without them even knowing about it. I’m ashamed to say I think I was even a bit mean to them as a result – older son would certainly argue I was a bit strict when on Thursday I banned him from riding his bike for a week for “being sullen”.

It took a while to work this out of my system. Even on Friday I was still in two minds about what to do. I knew there were genuine practical difficulties that would be extremely tough to overcome. The job would involve a two hour round trip every day. My hubby works over an hour away, and we have no family living nearby.

In fact there were more good reasons for turning it down than accepting it. Top of the list was the fact that I’d only wanted a part time position, which was not on the table.

Then I learned some terrible news and some worse news.

Someone I know and like (I’m reluctant to call her a friend only because we know each other purely in a professional capacity, but I know she is someone I’d like to have as a friend) was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is young and fit and gorgeous. It is a cruel and horrid disease.

The news has made me more determined than ever to do my little tiny bit to help find a cure or prevent more women (and men) suffering. I’m proud to be “walking the walk” by taking part in the London Moonwalk in May, with all money raised supporting breast cancer charities and hospitals. It’s a 26 mile night walk. I am halfway through my training regime and woefully under prepared but this recent news has made me more determined than ever to knuckle down. After all, a few blisters and aching bones are nothing compared to what cancer sufferers have to put up with. Feel free to support my efforts if you can…http://www.walkthewalkfundraising.org/blister_sisters

Then on Friday night I had a really vivid, bad dream. I woke up feeling really sad; at some point in my dream someone close to me died. I didn’t know who or how but it was a thought which stayed with me when I woke. I remember I posted a status update to this effect on my Facebook page on Saturday morning.

Two hours later my mum called to tell me my dad’s lovely cousin, Rachel (known as Ray), had died that morning. Ray had been hospitalised with a serious bout of pneumonia and pleurisy before Christmas. We exchanged emails and commented to each other on Facebook, keeping up a regular dialogue. She had suffered a lot in recent years with illnesses, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, but remained positive, upbeat and smiling throughout. She was the chronicler of my dad’s family history, the keeper of the flame…and suddenly, that morning, she was gone.

It is a terribly selfish thing to say, but her death helped me to see sense; to see the future I really wanted for myself and my family. This is nothing to do with sacrificing my own ambitions for my kids – I am horribly ambitious in some ways and determined to achieve success in my own right. But not at the expense of all the things that already make sense in my life; of all the things that already work well; and most of all of the precious time I get to spend with people who really matter.

So, I’ve turned the job down. It was never going to work; and the moment I pressed the send button on the email about my decision I felt relieved, rather than regretful.

Along the way between interview and today the muddy waters that have been swirling around me for months have suddenly cleared. For the first time in ages I realise what I want and how I’m going to try to achieve it. So thanks to everyone whose comments of support helped me along the way…you did help, enormously.

And so to that canalside walk earlier today. It was a simple stroll in the winter sunshine. The sky was a beautiful clear blue, like a Mediterranean sea. Trees were reflected in the still canal. I walked hand in hand with my lovely family, feeling the rays on my face. My heart was smiling. A corner had been turned.

White Blue

Tweeting from the council chamber

Tonight was a first for me; I followed a council debate live from Dudley while snuggling in my bedroom listening to Elbow’s new album.

No, I wasn’t peering in to the council chamber with a telescope, in the style of James Stewart in Rear Window. I was following the debate through the medium of Twitter.

All I can say is that in the space of 12 Tweets I learned all I needed to ever know about the public sector cuts debate engaging the good folk of Dudley. It saved me attending myself (as if) but still made me feel intimately involved. I particularly liked the bit when the public gallery started chanting and the police had to be called to clear the chamber. All very exciting.

As it happens, I don’t even live in the district of Dudley but I do subscribe to the tweets of the Express & Star, a daily regional newspaper where I once plied my trade as a young reporter.

Someone there has clearly twigged the value of social networks in the battle to engage the hearts and minds of local people. It will be slow, and time-intensive – but I reckon this kind of initiative is the future.

We are used to reading reports from council meetings and courts and inquests and other venues where journalists are traditionally welcome to attend. In our new world of rolling 24/7 news, we can sometimes get those reports within minutes of the case or incident ending.

But being able to get an instant, regularly updated feed live as things unfold? That is powerful. That is really mind-blowing. Through Twitter, pictures can be uploaded, captions posted, precise and clear words written – and it is as if we are right there, while it’s happening.

It’s taken me a long time to “get” Twitter. I still don’t really get it, only because I mostly follow minor celebrities and comedians rather than people I know. I don’t want to network professionally, or engage with other PR people particularly; I’m not trying to market myself or my services or tout any wares. I’ve used it to find some good photography blogs and information sites, I follow a few fantastic record company and record shop sites that tip off about upcoming tours and that kind of thing, and I once asked someone for a print quote who I spotted on Twitter just as I was about to email someone else.

But for those people who do want to do networking, or to engage with like minded people on particular topics, then I get why Twitter matters. I get why more and more people are doing it.

For me the future of Twitter comes in sharing information in a way that is direct, unadulterated and interactive. Any Express & Star followers tonight would have been able to find out what was happening in a council chamber miles away, and then make an instant response if they were so inclined.

This type of information-sharing will soon be the norm. There are already several class and school tweeters, who post daily from the classroom about what the kids are up to. Court reporters are beginning to tweet from live cases.

I like that I could choose to “tune in” to these tweets, in much the same way we currently tune in to news shows or TV and radio programmes.

Thanks for twittering on tonight, whoever was behind those E&S Dudley tweets. Good job.

PS: That Elbow album – excellent by the way.

Oh, and if you are minded to follow my tweets (they are rare) then I’m @rockhousePR See you twitterers!

Living like lovers, swanlike

Side by side for life

I’ve always liked swans. They are majestic, elegant, long necked and incredibly graceful. These are things I am not but hanker for.

I also love the purity of their appearance – all that white, virtually untainted by colour

But most of all I love the idea that they are monogamous creatures; they pick a mate, and stick together for life.

Only now I’ve found out it’s not always true. They sometimes “divorce”. They have affairs. They do the dirty on each other.

I put them on a pedestal, but they have let me down. They are no better than humans after all.

Anyway, before my illusion was shattered, I snapped this pair swimming about together in Springfield Park. It was an overcast day, one of those days when the sky is white with cloud and colour is drained out of everything; not ideal photographic conditions. I liked that this pair were almost in symmetry, either side of this line of shadow in the water. I liked how they look almost identical as they glide away.

I imagined them sailing off to spend the night snuggled up side by side on the bank. In fact they were probably off to a sex party with the neighbours. Dirty beasts.

While on the subject of monogamy, comedian Andrea Walker once made this observation: “My husband thought monogamy was a type of wood. I said: “Honey, no – monogamy’s when you just sleep with your wife.” He’s like, “No,— that’s monotony.”

Off to the nest

“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…”

My son, this morning, on his bike.

According to most recent figures, more than 20 children are killed every year in England & Wales while out cycling. While this represents untold tragedy and heartache for every family, this statistic has bizarrely cheered me up a bit. I reckon it means the chances of my little man joining them is pretty remote, right? Right?

This week my elder son, aged 10, has started cycling to school. We only live just over half a mile from school, so up to now we have made the journey on foot.

But since Monday my son and his classmates have been undergoing cycle proficiency training each morning; this clearly can’t be done without the aid of a bike, so it makes sense for him to cycle.

The first morning I made him wheel his bike the first 200 yards to the main road, where I tentatively saw him across to the central reservation and then on to the other side, before watching in horror as he wobbled on his way, pedalling furiously to get up some speed. High sided lorries whizzed by just feet away, making his wobble all the more pronounced.

He’s actually quite a competent cyclist. We regularly head off for family bike rides along the canal or along cycle trails, and he likes riding round and round the garden, leaving a muddy trail in  his wake.

But he rarely rides on the roads, so is somewhat lacking in street skills and seems blissfully unaware of possible hazards.

It’s hardly his fault.

When we were kids we would tear around the neighbourhood on our bikes in packs of up to 20, whizzing on and off pavements, riding no-handed or doing wheelies to our hearts’ content. Footwear of choice was trainers (winter) or flipflops (summer). Helmets were unheard of. Lights and reflectors were for show, not for safety.

No such fun for my son and his mates.

I’m really trying to give him more freedom; I truly believe that it’s only possible for anyone to know how to deal with risk and life’s ups and downs by experiencing them and learning how to negotiate them.

But it’s hard, isn’t it? I do understand why my fellow parents are so reluctant. Everywhere you look there are warnings, dire ones at that, about the risks facing kids today. It’s enough to make you want to wrap them up in cotton wool and never let them out of your sight.

Anyway, I’m braving it. I know he’s going to grow up sometime – I guess learning how to negotiate a quarter mile of A-road on two wheels is just going to be the start of his journey to manhood.

The picture above was taken on the field next to his school, as he messed around with his friends before the bell went this morning. I caught up with him after walking the same route with my younger son. It was a lovely frosty morning and it was good to see him having fun. But mostly it was good to know he’d made it in one piece. I could breath again. At least, until tomorrow…

Spring is sprung – and I’ve won the lottery!

“Season creep” is the term describing the gradual process by which one season slowly but noticeably slides earlier and earlier into the next. (It’s not to be confused with the term “slimy creep”, which is when a dodgy bloke slowly but noticeably tries to slide his hand up your leg.)

Spring is the season we in England most often think of as “creeping”. Apparently the rate of “creep” has now reached a couple of days each decade.

This is good, yes? Soon the first day of Spring could well coincide with Christmas Day. January will truly be a month of new beginnings and renewal, instead of the dull, overcast, flu-filled drudge it is now.

Today was, I am convinced, the first day of Spring 2011.

I was fortunate enough to have a day completely devoid of commitments (at least, nothing I couldn’t put off.) So when I walked/dragged the kids to school this morning, blue sky overhead, fluffy clouds a-skittering, I knew it was going to be impossible to resist the lure of the outdoors.

Appropriately suited and booted, I set off from home at about 11am, the Fleet Foxes singing me a lullaby or two through my earphones.

Within minutes I was off-road, heading over the marshland skirting the edge of Kidderminster town centre, pictured above, towards the Staffs & Worcs Canal, which I followed to Wolverley village, about two miles away.

Halfway along, when I stopped to take a few photos, I spotted two discarded lottery tickets on the towpath. Out of curiosity I stooped to pick them up. They are in my pocket now. I assume one of them will prove to be the winning ticket. It will make a great story. (Should you care my “winning” numbers are 11, 26, 31, 42, 43 and 47 or 04, 25, 40, 42, 45 and 47.)

No, Mr Lotto, I don’t want publicity if I win. Oh. Oops.

Anyway, distracted though I was by thinking of where I’d travel to first with my lottery winnings, I carried on walking, reaching Wolverley Court bridge and lock a few minutes later. This is the approach towards the bridge.

It was a glorious day. I was lucky to be able to enjoy it, rather than be stuck in a centrally heated office.

I do count my blessings, I promise; I know I’m lucky to be able to enjoy days like this when it suits me. It also means me and mine will never be rich, not financially anyway. (Oh, except for the lottery millions heading my way.) But there is more to life…

Anyway, back to my theme – which is, or was, Spring. The realisation that Spring might, just, have sprung already, came quite a long way further on.

After passing the Lock pub (and resisting the urge to go in and order champagne all round in lieu of my upcoming lottery win) I headed across a field, bathed in sunshine.

Whatever seed had been sown there was beginning to come to life. Green shoots, standing in stiff rows, swayed gently, like overheated guards at the Changing of the Guard.

Now, I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to nature’s cycles, but I thought this was significant. I’m certain one of you can tell me what this crop is, if not bog-standard grass…and will also be able to tell me if it would be expected to come up yet? I am interested. Really. (No Latin names though…)

Here’s a picture of it, with sun streaming in to help it keep growing.

Anyway, an hour later I was back home, feeling like shite. Two hours after that I was taking my first antibiotic for a chest infection and dose of flu.

No wonder this walking malarkey was leaving me a bit breathless and knackered. Don’t worry though; now Spring is here I’ll be just fine.

I often get a bit of a cold or somesuch in January – I think it’s the payoff for being fit and healthy for the Christmas/New Year frenzy. Let me know if Spring has sprung in your neck of the woods. I’m expecting daffs by next week. Not that I’ll care – I’ll be in Australia, enjoying my winnings.